The Clarion e-Bulletin caught up with Jerome Stueart (Clarion 2007), who is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Dayton. He joined Tiffany Davis, e-Bulletin co-editor, via Skype to discuss his current and upcoming books, his Clarion experience, Christian werewolves, and Sister Act, among other things. Due to the length of the interview, we are publishing it in parts.
Catch up on Part 1 of the interview here.
Catch up on Part 2 of the interview here.
Interview with Jerome Stueart (continued):
Tiffany Davis (TD): This is a good time for anyone in the creative field because there’s so much fodder.
Jerome Stueart (JS): Yeah. It’s a challenge to know what to say to this, and how to say it in a way that is most effective because the people who most need to hear it aren’t necessarily reading what we’re putting out. They may not necessarily be science fiction fans, so how do you cross over to the market of readers that might be interested in reading something with say, more faith-based ideas, or something that is more conservative? I certainly don’t want to write conservative things–I’m hoping that my book, especially One Nation Under Gods, falls into a sort of middle ground where the people who read it can see that the characters are not so different than they are, and the characters are struggling to survive in a landscape that looks a lot like what Americans are in now.
TD: You heard of the phrase, “Preaching to the choir.” So yeah, you’re reaching people like you but you want your message to go to those who may not have ready access to it. I think that’s why the movie Sister Act was so popular. She realized that the church was–in order to reach the environment, the neighborhood they were in, they had to meet the people where they were.
JS: Sister Act is perfect example of what we’re talking about! Sister Act was not only popular with conservatives, but it was very popular with liberals! And why is that? Because Whoopi Goldberg’s character comes from what we would call a more liberal knowledge base: in Vegas, she knows all the great Motown stuff that we love, and she brings that style to a kind of stuffy situation where the choir, but especially the administration, is trying to survive in a neighborhood they don’t understand and they’r edying off; and she brings new life. From a liberal perspective, liberalism brings life.
But if you look at it from a conservative standpoint, she doesn’t bring any of the “bad” stuff of Vegas. The church and the administration accepts this new person and her styles but hte message that eventually comes out of it is, JEsus and helpful to the neighborhood, and it’s a positive message of reaching out and being kind. So it gets to the basis of what Jesus said without being overly Jesus. And it actually borderlines–the songs she has them sing, are Motown songs with Jesus sort of replacing words, and it borders on sacrilege. It doesn’t go over that line because it feels so positive about Jesus.
I think the challenge for science fiction and fantasy writers, if we want to make a difference, is not to preach to the choir–the other science fiction and fantasy writers who believe in us and the other readers–but we have to be able to reach out to those who may not have opened a SFF book but who would be willing to read something if it tapped into some of the things that they cared about, some of their milieu that they’re used to, like a church, and was able not to critique it and condemn it–Sister Act doesn’t condemn the church. It says the church is a little bit unfocused on the neighborhood, on the world around them, and they need to be brought up to speed, but they’re still helpful: we’re going to fix the system. Whoopi Goldberg fixes the system with Motown, but she still keeps the system.
So conservatives everywhere love that message: our system was broken, but it’s not to be scrapped, and there’s still something positive about that system. My challenge is to be the Whoopi Goldberg *laughs* in some ways and jump into that system and give it a bit of science fiction and fantasy to fix it–I don’t know if I can fix the system at all, but not to condemn it, or not to hurt the people who I”m trying to actually speak to, but trying to reach out to people who are being hurt.
TD: Can you talk a bit about your Clarion experience?
JS: It was such a life-changing experience for me because I loved going to the workshops that I had in my college and university experiences; they were good. They were very focused on style and they were focused on character, but they weren’t that focused on plot. They didn’t give you much on How-To –they really had you sort of write, then they would critique; but they didn’t give a lot of instruction on making sure you had a sound plot. They were trying to fix what you had.
Since I wanted to write SFF, that wasn’t as available at the universities that I went to. No one was talking about that, or not many were talking about that before I went to Clarion. So going to Clarion for me was having the masters, who were currently publishing the SFF i really wanted to read, sit down and talk to me for a week, for six weeks long. Six of them giving us time and allowing us to write science fiction and fantasy stories. I think that was the first time, outside of “Lemmings” (which got me into Clarion), where I got to write a lot more science fiction and fantasy stories— inside Clarion. I wrote, I think, five stories there. It was such a good workshop to help you generate ideas, and be the author in the real world that you wanted to be, and develop collegiality with other SFF authors who were determined to be that kind of person too. I have stayed in touch with probably six or seven, at least, who went to Clarion wiht me in 2007, and could still be in touch with all of them, but we’re all over the place. I still feel very close to my Clarion class and to the teachers I had there, who still talk to me. The teachers stay with you for a long time.
I think that experience was invaluable to me as a writer, to be able to do what I longed to do with my writing, which was writing about SFF stories that mattered to me, and touched on things that I could only touch on through SFF. So YAY, CLARION! I do think it was worth it, but it was so hard for people to do. I mean, it was six weeks, so you have to sort of–I was in transition. I was moving my entire life to Canada in 2007. I had just left Texas. I had six weeks where I could be “The Writer”, and then move from there straight to Canada. So it was perfect timing for me. I will always love my experience there.
It’s wonderful to be in a dorm room with three other guys. When we weren’t in the dorm, in our own rooms writing like crazy, we were out being with each other, and…I miss that so much. I miss being around other SFF writers and just having that kind of community. THat’s the hard thing; when you leave there, you have to find that community again, and it’s hard to find four people, much less 18.
TD: This was great. I enjoy speaking with writers about the other aspects of their lives, and how it applies to their work; it’s not a typical interview about your process, and how many words you write a day, and whatever. When I interviewed Nalo Hopkinson for the previous e-Bulletin, we talked about how her cooking, and arts and crafts, affected her writing.
JS: She’s wonderful! You know, she was the first editor who accepted my first story. She was one of the editors of Tesseracts 9 and she wrote me and said, I need this lemmings story. She was so kind.
I heard her–this was the biggest moment–I can’t remember the room I was in, or the radio I was using, but she’s on CBC, I think, or another radio station, reading the first page of my story, out loud to the world, in her voice. I was just floored–floored!–that she loved the story so much that she wanted to read it; that it was the story she chose to read out loud, on the radio. It meant so much to me, and she means so much to me. She was the first person to believe in me, and to believe in my stories, and I–that means a lot.
TD: Again, this has been fun, and I ‘m glad you took the time.
JS: Thank you!
The Clarion e-Bulletin caught up with Jerome Stueart (Clarion 2007), who is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Dayton. He joined Tiffany Davis, e-Bulletin co-editor, via Skype to discuss his current and upcoming books, his Clarion experience, Christian werewolves, and Sister Act, among other things. Due to the length of the interview, we are publishing it in parts.
Catch up on Part 1 of the interview here.
Interview with Jerome Stueart (continued):
Tiffany Davis (TD): Given the current political climate–because part of how everything has evolved, there has been a lack of faith–how timely are your stories, now that you are addressing people wrestling with that faith, and faith vs. the greater good, like with the werewolf and the bluegrass band?
Jerome Stueart (JS): The faith question in this last election is so muddy. At least 80% of Evangelical Christians voted for this president, and what he stands for is against everything they believe in. There’s something wonky in Evangelicalism if you believe you hate the other side so much that you’d rather make a deal with someone who doesn’t represent you at all. It scares me to think that people could be so blinded, and I’m not sure it’s blinded by their faith. I’m not sure it’s a lack of faith, but it’s certainly a lack of being able to interpret the real message of Jesus. If you think that the president is anything like you were going for in your mission statement, you’ve got that all wrong.
I know my upcoming novel (One Nation Under Gods) will really touch on this a lot. I didn’t plan on it being so timely, but it is the American landscape redefined by a religious fervor that. When the book comes out, I have a feeling that the book will feel very nonfiction. I mean, there will be gods in my book but the way that we worship the ideas–of patriotism, of nationalism; how we interpret freedom as “I get to do what I want to do but no one else gets to do what they want to do”–that definition just floors me, because freedom should be so much broader than that. And Christian freedom, especially. I’ve grown up in the panhandle of West Texas and I know the government and the history, and everything around there was so melded with religion, that it was very difficult to pull them apart, or even reason with people who wanted to put them together. I agree that you should be a moral person in a political office. But we have a country that is multi-faith and if you can’t be the president or ruler of everybody, of every faith equally, then it’s not a job for you.
There are so many people who use Christianity to hurt other people, that it hurts me because it’s a faith I believe in, but in some ways, it’s not being practiced in a way that I could ever support. I don’t know —but certainly, I would love to be a bridge between people who still want to believe in the morality of humanity, in faith, and those who want to believe in the freedom and expression and inclusion of bringing everyone into the tent, regardless of background or race or sexuality or anything. There are lots of churches that represent that–I joined the United Church of Canada, and they are very open to that type of Christianity—they are a successful bridge. I’d like to be a bridge.
Science fiction and fantasy can sometimes tiptoe around religion, or make it look really bad by simply showing the bad sides of it. I think there are some good parts to it, and good people in it, and I want to save them and still talk about them. That’s why my werewolf story is from the point of view of someone who has been hurt by religion. One of the band members, he’s an alcoholic and they don’t trust him anymore. Even though he’s dry, he’s still not trustworthy in their eyes; yet they are willing to trust the werewolf in their group who’s killed people. He can’t understand why there’s a huge difference, and he’s there sort of analyzing the story as it goes along to show the problems within the faith and the problems within those points of view.
TD: I keep laughing about the gorilla in the story, “Et Tu, Brute?” Like the part where he was like, “Why don’t you just smear some feces on it, for love?” I was like, “Wow…” *laughing*
JS: You know, that was such a fun exercise. There are three flash fiction pieces in the book and, I have to say, those three flash fiction pieces have gotten more feedback when people read the book, because they seem to hit people very hard. I always thought lengthier ones were those that would stay with you but people are really saying that the short ones are punching them in a wonderful way that they remember. Writing 500-750-word short stories is hard. Really hard. I love those three little pieces, and I’m really happy they’re in there, but those three pieces were such a great challenge to do and to have work. So I’m really happy when they work. So, thank you, for your thoughts on “Et Tu, Brute”.
TD: That, and the line where–the character was writing Pete [another character], and said, “If I wanted you back, did you really think I would say ‘The gorilla made me do it’? Like, come on!” *laughs*
JS: *laughs* Yeah, she’s such a great character. She doesn’t want to do what she has to do, but she’s trying to save her job. At the same time, she’s…yeah. She’s fun.
TD: It’s interesting that you said she was female, because I didn’t get that.
JS: You know, I have to actually tell people…there is one line in the story, they’re asking her permission, and they name her.
TD: Shelly. But Shelly can be a…I’ve known men, where Shelly was short for Sheldon or a last name…
JS: Ohhh! That’s a variance!
TD: Yeah, so when you said “Shelly”, it never occurred to me that the character was female. I just rolled with it.
JS: It’s funny. When I read it out loud, I actually have to preface, “Now I’m reading aloud as a woman.” It’s oddly awkward, but…I mean, it does work if it’s a guy, too, but I had not thought about it at all that people might assume that because I’m a gay author, that people would assume that’s my default. That all of my narrators, instead of being women, would be men talking.
TD: It wasn’t obvious; it’s not like they were wrapping themselves in the rainbow flag, but to me, when I saw “Shelly” I was like, “Well…but that could go either way.” I have a friend whose last name is Kellibrew, and we always call him “Kelly”. Kelly is one of those androgynous names.
JS: I tried to pick a name that thought was very female, that would give it away.
TD: No, you would have to go complete female, like Monica, Samantha…
JS: Yeah. But what’s funny is when you’re doing first person, you rarely get a chance to speak, to say something that describes you as a man or a woman, unless your narrator specifically says “I’m a man/woman who …” I thought that calling her Shelly would give it away and that would be okay. That’s funny; not just you, but the fact that I have to preface it each time I read it [saying it’s a woman] means that people assume it’s a guy. And that’s okay.
TD: It goes either way, depending on wherever you sit. If you’re hardwired heterosexual, you’re going to think Shelly’s a woman. I’m, as ,they say, straight, but not narrow, so to me–and understanding that you’re gay–I paused when I saw Shelly and like, “Wait a minute…but this could go either way.” It’s the story, not the character’s sexuality, that drives it. If it was a man and Pete was the ex…the story was universal, so I didn’t think anything of it.
JS: I think that, in some ways, her as a woman– the team that she’s working on, they don’t care that she’s gone through a difficult relationship. They don’t care about how much this means to her, not to have to do this. They just care about not losing this gorilla that they’ve spent millions of dollars on, so she’s secondary. And I thought, that’s a big statement about women in science, in some ways, having to ignore that people can’t see the importance of a relationship unless it means something to their money. The money–or the gorilla–is more important than anything else. I thought that was ironic.
TD: But that circles back to what you said about the werewolf story. It’s almost something similar; the currency is souls, as opposed to cash, but it’s the same thing. You’re sacrificing other people to the werewolf for the greater good.
JS: Exactly, the idea of what’s more important here: the souls or their lives? [The characters in the bluegrass band] get letters from fans, telling us of the changes that have occurred in their lives and that they’re happy, . Are we going to give up that, to stop a possible murder? It will become more probable as the story goes on, but where do we find ourselves? What’s our role?
TD: It reminds me of the show Army Wives, which I was bingeing on Netflix. There was an episode where one of the main characters, a general, had a diplomat visit from a make-believe Latin American country, and they were trying to get some sort of governmental land deal. The guy tried to rape the general’s wife and, of course, the general was upset, the guy was arrested, blah blah blah. Someone from the State Department came to the general and told him that the Army needed this land and the diplomat wouldn’t do the deal unless the general was present at the ceremony. The general was stunned; the diplomat had immunity, so he wouldn’t get prosecuted, and the general was just sitting there in shock. And the State Department representative was like, it’s not a suggestion, he had to be there. They’re ignoring the fact that this guy just tried to rape his wife; they needed the deal to happen, so suck it up. You’re just like, “Wooooooowwww.”
JS: Oh that’s awful. Those kinds of stories move us, or upset us, because they happen so often in our lives, where we have to make difficult choices despite how we’ve been hurt. We have to find some way to get beyond that to save our jobs or, we can stand up and make a stand, but what’s the greater good in this situation? Not necessarily in the Army Wives episode you named, but can we do something to help the greater good despite our own personal pain? Those kind of characters, when you watch them on television or read them in fiction, are so powerful because you hurt for them because they’re not allowed to feel the pain publicly, so you feel for them–oh, my gosh!–as they carry that pain.
TD: Yes, especially when you see it played out in the microcosm of life. Think of the person who works at a job that he or she hates, maybe for a company that is against what they believe in, but they need the health insurance; they need the salary to feed their kids. Like you said, you can stand up and make a stand, but that’s not really gonna help when your kids need to eat.
JS: And then, you see the opposite: the greed of people who are willing to hurt others to get money. We’re witnessing that every day. Is there an end to the selfishness and lack of self-sacrifice that our government officials will do, to hurt us, to gain? I do not want to watch that happen in fiction, unless I have characters who are going to fight that, who want to be people who personally sacrifice for something good—who make a moral choice because it’s right; who sacrifice their own desires for a better outcome.
Continue reading part 3 of this interview here.
Greetings! Here is an April 2017 update on the alumni and instructors of Clarion:
(1) “Sacrificial Nights”, a poetry novella written in collaboration with Alessandro Manzetti, is on the Bram Stoker AwardFfinal Ballot.
(2) Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, a fiction and poetry collaboration with Robert Frazier, has been released by Crystal Lake Publishing.
James Patrick Kelly
“Burn” was reprinted in the April 2017 issue of Forever magazine.
Gregory Frost (with Bill Johnson)
“Three Can Keep a Secret” has been published in the March/April 2017 issue of Asimov’s magazine.
“Phantom Pain” was published in the March 2017 issue of Lightspeed magazine.
“That Perilous Stuff” (Chiral Mad 3) has been nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
(2) “Invasion of the Saucer Men” was published in the March/April 2017 issue of Asimov’s magazine.
Michael A. Burstein
“Sofer Pete” (with Tom Easton) was published in the March 2017 issue of Nature magazine.
Sold “My Mother the Ocean” to the 2018 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide, under her pen name, Dianna Sanchez.
Rosemary Claire Smith
“Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs” (April 2016 issue) is a finalist for the 2016 Analog Analytical Laboratory (AnLab) Awards.
“Come See the Living Dryad” was published by Tor.com.
(1) Binti (Tor.com publishing) has been shortlisted for the 2017 Nommo Awards.
“Soulmates.com” was published in the March/April 2017 issue of Asimov’s magazine.
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening (art by Sana Takeda), has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
Furnace (Word Horde) won the This Is Horror Award for Best Story Collection.
Sold “Midwives” to the Mother’s Revenge anthology (Scary Dairy Press), which will be released later this month.
(1) Borderline (Saga) was on the shortlist for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
(2) Borderline (Saga) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
“Goner” was published in the March/April 2017 issue of Asimov’s.
Kai Ashante Wilson
(1) A Taste of Honey (Tor.com Publishing) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(2) A Taste of Honey (Tor.com Publishing) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
(1) “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” (Uncanny magazine November/December 2016) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(2) “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” (Uncanny magazine November/December 2016) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
Sam J. Miller
“Things with Beards” (Clarkesworld magazine June 2016) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
(1) “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” (Uncanny magazine May/June 2016) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(2) “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” (Tor.com 3/2/16) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(3) “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” (Uncanny magazine May/June 2016) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
(4) “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” (Tor.com 3/2/16) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
“Opals and Clay” (Podcastle podcast 5/12/16) was on the shortlist for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
Sold “Godmeat” to Lightspeed magazine for publication later this year.
Sold “Suite for Accompanied Cello” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine, for publication later this year.
Lost Objects, her first collection of short stories, was released in January 2017 from Luna Press Publishing (Scotland).
“No Other Men in Mitchell,” which was originally published in Nightmare magazine in February 2016, has been nominated for the Australian Shadows Awards in the Short Fiction category.
“White Dust” has been nominated for 31st annual Asimov’s Readers’ Awards.
“Figs, Detached” will appear in the April 2017 issue of Nightmare magazine.
“You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” was published in the March 2017 issue of Nightmare magazine.
“The Tragedy of the Dead Is That They Cannot Cry” was published in the March 2017 issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine.
(1) Hwarhath Stories (Aqueduct) was on the shortlist for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
(2) “Daisy” was published in the March/April 2017 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.
“We Regret the Error” was published in the March/April 2017 issue of Asimov’s magazine.
The View from the Cheap Seats (Morrow; Headline) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(1) Will Do Magic for Small Change (Aqueduct) has been nominated for the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.
(2) Will Do Magic for Small Change was on the shortlist for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
Hard Light (Minotaur) has been nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards.
N. K. Jemisin
(1) The Obelisk Gate (Orbit US; Orbit UK) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(2) “The City Born Great” (Tor.com 9/28/16) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(3) The Obelisk Gate (Orbit US; Orbit UK) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
(1) The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Tor.com Publishing) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(3) The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Tor.com Publishing) has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
(1) The Ballad of Black Tom (Tor.com Publishing) has been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.
(2) The Ballad of Black Tom won the 2016 This Is Horror Award for Best Novella.
(3) The Ballad of Black Tom has been nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards.
(4) The Ballad of Black Tom has been nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards.
“If Lions Could Speak: Imagining the Alien” was published in the April 2017 issue of Lightspeed magazine.
“The Stone Lover” was published in the March 2017 issue of Lightspeed magazine.
Santiago (Edizioni Della Vigna) has been nominated for the 2017 Italian Primo Italia Awards.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Il Verde di Marte [Green Mars] (Fanucci) has been nominated for the 2017 Italian Primo Italia Awards.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone (Candlewick) has been nominated for the 2016 Andre Norton Award.
“Ancient Engines” was reprinted in the April 2017 issue of Clarkesworld magazine.
Catherynne M. Valente
La Fille Qui Navigua Autour de Féérie dans un Bateau Construit de Ses Propres Mains [The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making] & La Fille Qui Tomba Sous Féerie et y Mena les Festoiements [The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There], (Balivernes) have been nominated for the 2017 Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.
Eugene Ramos (2015), went a different route than most of his Clarion classmates and chose to make his mark in film, rather than prose. Tiffany Davis, one of the e-Bulletin co-editors, caught up with Eugene via Skype and chatted about Shakespeare, love interests, and side hustles at the Apple store.
Due to space constraints, we could only post a small portion of the interview in the newsletter itself. We are pleased to offer the entire interview here, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
If you’d like to see Eugene’s short film, They Charge for the Sun, here are some upcoming dates:
Boston, MA at the Independent Film Festival Boston
Tiffany Davis (TD): You majored in Shakespeare! That’s pretty interesting.
Eugene Ramos (ER): It was weird because when I was in high school, I remember that I didn’t like Shakespeare. And when I went to college, I signed up for a Shakespeare class for my very first quarter, and I remember, after signing up, I looked at my schedule and was like, “Why did I sign up for Shakespeare? I hate Shakespeare!” But, after that first class, I was just blown away. I took as many Shakespeare classes as I could and, because of that, that qualified me to graduate with a degree in 16th Century British Literature.
So a lot of my writing, because of that, because of that background, is a result of me writing…most of the stuff I write is influenced by Shakespeare. If you read them, you can see the Shakespearian influence. For example, I wrote this romantic comedy about Isaac Newton, and there’s cross-dressing in it, people falling in love with the wrong people, so it’s very much in the vein of As You Like It and, certainly, Shakespeare In Love.
TD: Sweet. Are you a native Angeleno? Everyone I know say that people in L.A., most of them are from somewhere else.
ER: Yes. Originally, I”m from Chicago. I lived in Chicago for most of my life. I lived in New York for seven years, on and off. After New York, I moved to LA.
TD: If you’re doing film, that’s really where you need to be. That’s a major hub.
TD: So you went to Clarion. Do you ever plan to write….most of the Clarionites I’ve experienced are into some sort of novel. There are very few that have done anything outside of books. Even Ted Chiang, he’s gotten a lot of kudos for his short story, “Story of Your Life”, which was turned into the movie Arrival. But he’s, again, books that happened to be a movie. But you’re like, “Movie! That’s’ where I’m at!”
ER: Yeah. I started as a short story writer. I was writing short stories when I was in high school and college. Then, I decided to apply to film school a few years after I graduated from college. Since then, it’s been scripts. It was a weird transition for me to go back to writing prose. I’ve been writing prose on and off, mainly just concentrating on scripts. The funny thing about writing scripts, or learning how to write scripts, is all these rules that they tell you are, in a way, the exact opposite of what you should be doing if you’re writing prose.
Script writing is very stripped down, so you don’t even want to get into character’s mindset, or inside the character’s head. That was really painful for me going to Clarion, because I was so used to writing scripts and not getting into the character’s internal life. Not even describing setting, because that’s not my job as a screenwriter to realize how the set looks; that’s the set decorator, and you don’t want to do anyone else’s job when writing a script.
I got all of these notes from my instructors that blew my mind because they were so common sensical. For example: I wrote a script and my instructor, Saladin [Ahmed], said, “All the settings you write are all white rooms. You never describe how any of the rooms look.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, right! I can describe what a room looks like in a short story!” Another instructor–I think it was Karen Joy Fowler–said, “You do realize that you can get into your character’s head, right?” And it was just a moment of, “Well, of course I can! I’m not writing a script, so I can say whatever is on a character’s mind.”
But for me, I feel like I’m going to stick with script writing. Everyone else in my class are such strong prose and fiction writers; it’s difficult for me, after reading their stuff, to even think about even trying that. I feel like my brain has sort of, I guess, hardened in a way that it will only write scripts and trying to write prose again is a very atypical thing for me. Although I think I’ll try to write a few short stories in the near future.
ER: Basically, in the film and TV industry, in order to get work, you need to write these scripts on spec as a way to show that you can write for that show’s voice, and that you can write TV scripts in general. The point of these scripts is not to get them made, but to use them as sort of a calling card.
TD: How, exactly–besides the obvious length and budget–does a TV script differ from a film script? I know they’re shorter because most TV scripts are series, you know, multi-episodic with character arcs. What are your challenges you see in writing for TV versus writing for film? Your spec scripts, versus your short film, They Charge for the Sun, that was picked up by the International Film Festival of Rotterdam [the film opened on Jan . 30]?
ER: It’s a challenge because, when you write novels, most people don’t have a page count destination in mind. Scripts, I feel, are very different because of the way TV shows have been airing for years. For sitcoms, you always want to them to be 30 minutes or less (to account for commercials); for dramas, 60 minutes or less. For movies, you typically–I think the sweet spot these days is a 90-minute movie. Though, the short of short-handed thing is that each page of a script equals one minute.
When you write a script, you have that page count restraint in mind. For me, I tend to write long, so my Isaac Newton script was probably 140-150 pages, which is about a 2.5-hr movie. I got a lot of pushback from people saying it was way, way, too long. I have friends in my class who write really long short stories that are basically novellas; some of them sit down and they don’t have a page count in mind, they just sit down and write until they feel like it’s done. For film and TV, you can’t really do that. In terms of getting an idea and finding out what the constraints are, for me, personally, every time I come up with a TV idea it’s actually a movie idea; or when I come up with a movie idea, it’s actually a TV idea. It’s weird because, for me, I just have to write it and figure out if it works as a movie or as a TV show.
TD: Let’s delve more into the human interest side. I want to learn more about YOU, Eugene. *laughs* Pets? No pets? And if you covered this in other interviews, I apologize, but the newsletter focuses so much on people and their writing.
ER: General stuff?’’
TD: yeah, like you were filling out a Tinder profile. What would cause someone to swipe right, instead of swipe left?
ER: *laughs* Honestly, I currently don’t have much of a life. I’ve been trying to work as much as I can. I currently work at the Apple store. I try to get as many hours of I can because I have a lot of student loan debt and credit card debt, and I want to get that down as quickly as possible.
TD: Did you finance your film yourself?
ER: The cool thing about that is that I got into a program called Project Involve, which is set up by film independents. Every year, all these people apply for the program and they pick 30 people. They pick six writers, six editors, six producers, six directors, and six cinematographers. They break us up into 6 teams and each of those teams films a movie– a short film. They provided, I think, it was $5,000 and all sorts of in-kind services. We got a free, camera package, we got free post-production coloring and sound design–it was amazing. All that stuff put together was like a $15,000 short film.
TD: Once this film is picked up–you showed it in Rotterdam–and it does well, do you hope that a distributor picks it up? How does that happen?
ER: I’m not that well-versed in stuff like that. I mean, I had a short film that I wrote that was picked up for distribution on an anthology DVD, and then basically the director got paid for that–in short film, the director is pretty much the author of the short–so I probably won’t see any money from this. I don’t think anyone is going to see any money from this. You know, we did this for the love of film making and the story, so no one’s expecting any money. If anyone gets any sort of a claim for it, it’ll probably be the director. It was his vision for this and I hope he gets some more gigs out of it. This guy, Terrence Nash, is working all the time and is at all the big film festivals. I would love to see one of his movies go mainstream.
TD: I was asking about the finances and was remembering Spike Lee, many, many moons ago before hit it big. It was Do the Right Thing or She’s Gotta Have It–whichever was his first mainstream film–and he was talking about how he maxed out all his credit cards to get the financing for his film, because he couldn’t get funding.
ER: I think there a lot of old stories like that, about people maxing out their credit cards. I think even Kevin Smith did something like that. But these days, it’s so much easier to make movies. Almost everyone has a smartphone and the vast majority of those smartphones can shoot HD, or even 4K. I guess, on top of that, you just need to get good sound. But once you get those two things together, and some people willing to work for free with you, you can put something together pretty easily. You just need to know how to put it together.
I’ve seen a lot of short films by people who are very enthusiastic about putting something together, but they don’t quite know the language and grammar of film making quite yet. I know that you start young,–one of my friends, his kid is 9 or 10 years old, and he’s making YouTube videos now. They’re not very sophisticated, but he’s starting at 10. When he’s 18, he’s going to be a master at this. It’s an amazing time to be a filmmaker because it can be done pretty inexpensively.
TD: We’re in the age where Netflix is tripling down on original content, and Amazon Prime is jumping into it too. HBO has always been on the forefront of original film. Issa Rae, she started out on YouTube with her show Awkward Black Girl, and Pharrell Williams picked her up under his production company for season 2, which is still on YouTube; now, she has her own series on HBO. Do you see yourself, perhaps, showcasing your work on one of those venues?
ER: If I were really lucky! I would love to write my own TV show. The thing is, it’s just incredibly difficult to get read in this town. That Isaac Newton script that I mentioned won a bunch of awards and has done really well in contests, but for the most part people don’t want to read it or, if they read, it, they just think that…someone mentioned to me that the movie is unsaleable. Because Hollywood, right now, is about sequels; prequels; remakes; stuff that’s in public domain; stuff that is in people’s consciousness at the moment. So something original is difficult to get made. Basically, I would love to do my own TV show but it’s really hard out here. It’s the same with short story writing; I hear my Clarion classmates talk about trying to get published. It’s very competitive and a little depressing, actually.
TD: I’m a self-published author and I used to work in publishing, and trying to get on with a mainstream house is just crazy now. It’s a trend, and as a writer of color, mainstream houses have a perception of what they think certain demographics read. They use the justification “Our number show that ___ people only read…” And I’m like, well, have you polled every ____ person in the country?Do you know that? Certain genres may sell, but we’re not monoliths. So you can’t say that only ___ read this, and only ___ read that. I mean, I like Maeve Binchy novels, but I’ve never set foot in Ireland, and I’m definitely not white, so…what? *laughs*
ER: Right. And it’s crazy because the prevailing belief in Hollywood for a very long time is that no one wants to watch TV shows about Asian Americans. For years, they would just wouldn’t make any. I think, the last Asian American sitcom before the recent crop was the Margaret Cho show (All-American Girl), something like 20 years before Fresh Off the Boat premiered. And I have this Asian American script and I remember talking to this writer/producer who was teaching this class and I pitched it to him in his the class. This writer/producer has gone on to do huge things, and is an Oscar-nominated producer but at the time, he was just getting started. He said something like, “Keep in mind that your movie has too many Asian faces and because of that, the box office potential is really low. So the likelihood of this movie being made isn’t very good.”
That perception is just crazy to me, I mean, you can see all these Asian American-fronted TV shows and movies doing well. You have Master of None, you have Dr. Ken, you have Fresh Off the Boat. Have you seen the show Selfie?
TD: With John Cho. I liked him in Sleepy Hollow.
ER: Yeah. I hate that they cancelled Selfie. One of the brilliant things about the show was that his being Asian American wasn’t a thing on the show. John Cho was just a leading man, he was a high executive in this pharmaceutical company. His race never came up on the show. I mean, friends and I have had discussions about why it got cancelled, why the viewership wasn’t high enough; I think it was because people were uncomfortable having an Asian American romantic lead in a TV show.
TD: I read that it was an issue in the Asian community, because it was an Asian male. IT’s no problem if it’s an Asian female with a white male lead; that’s all good. But the opposite is like *screeching brake sound*
ER: Exactly. I think that’s the case. I’ve had Asian American friends say no, that’s not the case, it’s because they didn’t publicize the show, or it was in a bad time slot, or whatever. I still feel like America is uncomfortable having an Asian male love interest for a white woman.
TD: That movie with Jet Li and the late singer Aaliyah [Romeo Must Die], though the interest wasn’t that overt. You have Sleepy Hollow (the one-sided love interest between Cho’s character Andy and Abbie); it was no problem; it was more that she just wasn’t digging him like that (And that his character was possessed by a malevolent spirit), than the fact that he was Asian. It is–I hate to say it is what it is. As long as the people in power–who are white–make the decisions, things won’t really change.
ER: Unfortunately. Do you watch Big Bang Theory?
TD: I haven’t gotten around to it, but the people I know love it.
ER: It’s an okay show, I have friends who really dislike it because it does a disservice to nerds, but the main thing is that the main character is pursuing the neighbor Penny, and in one of the season finales, the main character’s best friend, Raj–the Indian character–the last scene of this episode kind of hints that maybe Raj has slept with Penny. And I was like, this is awesome! And then in the season premiere, a few months later, they revealed that they never slept with each other because they were too drunk, and Raj wasn’t able to put the condom on, and it just deflated the whole thing of this Asian guy who may have slept with the white girl. Such a bummer.
TD: IT was a little better than That ’70s Show, where the Indian/South Asian character was more of a buffoon. Progress! *sarcastic tone*
ER: *laughs* Right.
TD: I apologize. When I’m tired, my filter goes away. I haven’t read any of your stories, so I apologize. When you do your love interests in your stories, you just concentrate on the interests, and who the love interests are?
ER: It depends on what I want to do. For example, that Asian American script that I mentioned. It’s called “I’m Not Phil”. It has a double meaning because if you read it phonetically, it sounds like the shorthand for Filipino.
ER: The main premise of the script is that the main character, Ray, He’s Filipino American but his whole life, he’s been mistaken for this other Filipino American guy named Phil. Whenever Ray does something great, Phil takes credit for it and whenever Phil does something wrong, Ray gets blamed. What happens is that this incredibly cute white girl thinks that Ray is Phil, and Ray plays along with it and pretends to be Phil. For me, in that movie, it was important for me to make fun of all those Asian stereotypes, especially the stereotype in America that all Asians look alike.
On the other hand, to also have an Asian romantic lead with a white female romantic lead. It turns out that she can tell Asians apart for real, but there’s a twist at the end that reveals that she’s not part of perpetuating the stereotype. But in that case, in that movie, it’s a part of me that wants to show the romantic dynamic between an Asian man and a Caucasian woman. For something like my Isaac Newton script, which takes place in 17th century London, it has to have two white romantic leads.
TD: You’ve had short stories that have won awards. Are you planning on releasing those as a collection?
ER: I don’t have enough short stories to put together a collection, and the awards I’ve won, compared to some of the stuff my cohorts have won, doesn’t really compare.
TD: So it’s not like you’ve won a Hugo,or a Locus, or a John Tiptree.
TD: How are you feeling? Since you’re getting over bronchitis, and I’ve been there, I don’t want to drag this out.
ER: No, I’m fine.
TD: Okay. Is there anything that you want to put out there, that you want people to know?
ER: Let me think…I don’t know. I mean, can you think of something that will prompt a response?
TD: Let’s see: What is it that draws you, since you’re the Sci-Fi Shakespeare Guy, that draws you to science fiction? What is it that gets your creativity going and allows you to write the types of stories that, though they eventually go to film or boost your script writing, what is it about the genre that lights you up?
ER: I love the idea of placing the real world in a setting that is just as little bit off. Setting something in the future, or in a fantastical world, that could comment on things that are happening today without directly commenting on them. I know, in some cases, if you write about something specifically happening today, like certain comparisons, in science fiction it can be a little more subtle and people are more receptive to that sort of medicine because it’s a bit sweetened, if that makes sense. I feel like, if I were to write a story criticizing some of the stuff that is happening in America today, but set in the future or in a futuristic world, it would be easier for someone to swallow who doesn’t share the same beliefs I do.
TD: Cool beans. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
ER: Thank you for having me!
The Clarion e-Bulletin caught up with Jerome Stueart (Clarion 2007), who is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Dayton. He joined Tiffany Davis, e-Bulletin co-editor, via Skype to discuss his current and upcoming books, his Clarion experience, Christian werewolves, and Sister Act, among other things. Due to space constraints, we could only publish a small part of the interview in the February e-Bulletin. You can now read it in its entirety below; due to its length, we are publishing it in parts.. Enjoy!
Interview with Jerome Stueart (part 1)
Tiffany Davis (TD): Let’s talk about your latest collection, The Angels of Our Better Beasts. I read the blurb (which is prefaced with the intro,“The Beasts have plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. But you’re going to have to trust them.”) and was like, “Wow…griffins and …wow…”
Jerome Stueart (JS): Yeah, I did sort of a bestiary. Most of my stories have an animal in them somewhere, and the animal plays a larger role. I thought, I have enough stories with animals in them, that I can do this sort of theme. OR monsters, yea.
TD: The animals…does that come from growing up in the Yukon? What’s up there? Bison? Deer?
JS: Actually, I’m a newcomer to the Yukon, was there for about ten years, and I’m in Ohio right now. I grew up in Missouri and Texas, mostly.
JS: *laughs* Yeah, cattle. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve always loved our pets, and animals, and zoos. I just felt an affinity with animals. I read a lot of animal stories growing up: you know, Black Beauty, and Rabbit Hill, and Watership Down, and Wind in the Willows. There was just something magical about those books, and Stuart Little, and The Trumpet and the Swan, and a lot of the E.B.White books. As a kid, you just want animals to pass on some sort of wisdom that other people are not passing on to you. Because animals seem like they want to talk to you more than the adults do. I think that probably stuck with me.
TD: Do you have any pets yourself?
JS: I do not. I am such an apartment dweller, and I move around a lot, that I’ve not been able to have my own pet for a long time. In fact, back when I lived with my folks as a teen, was the last time I had a pet. I’ve always wanted a dog but, again, I’ve only been in a place long enough to get a degree. When I was in the Yukon, I thought I would stay there, until I fell in love–and that didn’t work out, but that’s okay–I thought I would be there for a while but the apartment that I got…the good apartments, as you know, are usually the ones that don’t allow pets. There’s something appealing about…you want the good, safe, apartment, but you decide. And I travel so much, I don’t feel like doing that to a pet until I have someone else in the house who will help take care of it when I’m gone.
TD: Where do you like to travel?
JS: Well, obviously I go back to the Yukon as much as I can. I still have lots of friends up there. Conferences and conventions; I find myself going to probably three or four a year. And then I travel back to see my folks in Texas. My birth mother lives in Indiana, so I like to try and go and see her.
Sometimes I go back to New York City; I’m doing some work on a book that’s set in Long Island; I”m just trying to finish up the last few chapters that are set in NYC, so I’m trying to schedule little trips to see specific things. I’m only a Greyhound bus ride away from Chicago–it’s a long ride, 14 hours–but it’s cheap! Oh my gosh! It’s only $60 to go to NYC., if you can endure 14 hours on a crushed bus, you know, where you’re with a lot of other people. Most of the time, I take the night bus, so I just sleep through the thing and get to NYC and I can do what I need to do, and I stay with friends there.
JS: Yeah, it’s cheap!
TD: You have another book coming out in summer 2018.
JS: One Nation Under Gods. It came from a short story I had printed in Tesseracts 14.
My now-publishers were the editors of that particular volume of Tesseracts and they liked it so much, they were like, “Can we have the novel version of this? Do you have it ready?” I was like, “Noooo!” *laughing* I mean, no, I didn’t have it ready but wow, I would love to have it ready! We have been working to get that novel out and it should be out by June of next year.
TD: Is that coming out on ChiZine [pronounced as “Shy-zine”] as well?
JS: Yeah, ChiZine [pronounced “Chee-zine”] is publishing it as well.
TD: I see “Chi” and think “Chicago”, or “The Chi”.
JS: I know! That’s funny. I always wanted to call them ChiZine [pronounced “Chy-zine”] too. But, you know, I know they’re going for the word “chi”, the idea of chi…
TD: Like “energy”
JS: Yeah, and I think that’s wonderful! And “zine”, of course. So, yeah, I’m really happy that’s coming out next year. It’ll be my first novel.
TD: The Angels of Our Better Beasts contains poetry. So you’re a poet, as well?
JS: Well, *chuckle* those two poems are…I mean, I have a few poems out there, but I don’t really count myself as a poet only because that’s not the first form I think of. The two poems in the collection are narrative poems, so they’re very much telling a story. The last one in the book, “The Song of Sasquatch”, I actually modeled that off the “Song of Solomon” in the Bible. I read “Song of Solomon” over to catch the rhythm and the language style, and then I replaced the characters with Sasquatch and the cryptozoologist that follows him, and have them fall in love and talk about the idea of being found, and wanting to be found, and not wanting to stay hidden. The sasquatch wants to reveal himself or come out in some way, but his community of sasquatches don’t want to allow that.
And that’s the same…in the Song of Solomon, the young girl who the king is in love with, is not accepted by the other women who Solomon has as wives. Her friends are nervous for her, that she is going to experience racism, and a lot of other things, because of her race. The poems are set up very similarly but I had a lot of fun with “Song of Sasquatch” for the first part of it–it’s kind of campy–and then it turns serious. Again, they’re narrative poems and I felt more at ease telling a story in a poem. There’s some amazing poets out there and I don’t know that I would call myself yet a poet, only because I’m still strongly telling stories in sort of a poetic form.
TD: On your website–I grew up Southern Baptist–
JS: Oh, me too!
TD: –You wrote a passage and I was like, it was from the Bible, but I can’t remember which verse–obviously; I kinda left all that alone–
JS: I wonder if the verse that you’re thinking of is the tag line on the book, where I say, “The beasts have plans for you, plans to make you prosperous and not harm you…”
JS: In fact, someone told me, “Should this be in quotes?” And I said no, the people who get it are going to get it. It’s almost a direct reference to–it’s Jeremiah 29:11–where the verse starts, “The Lord has plans for you…” I’m purposely echoing that because I want to give those religious echoes occasionally in the book, just because I want to play with the idea of trusting…how we trust things: trusting animals that we don’t understand but are mysterious; in the same way we don’t understand God, and He’s mysterious too, and we don’t have all the answers but we put a lot of trust in Him. I’m just playing with some of those themes.
TD: I like that…like you were talking about with “Song of Sasquatch”. I like that you are incorporating your Christian beliefs in a way that’s not heavy-handed. That’ll reach people.
JS: I grew up Evangelical, and the problem I had with Evangelicalism is that it didn’t rely on the idea or belief that you had your truth and people would be attracted to that truth. It relied on the fact that you, in some ways, forced people to hear you out and condemn them if they didn’t want to be part of that. To me, if you have a truth, any truth, it should be powerful enough to work by itself. I don’t feel a need to be as pushy…I mean, obviously, that pushiness is something I grew up with… but I learned a lot when that kind of pushy was aimed back at me.
When I came out, I lost all my friends in the Yukon church I was in –almost all of them; there are still a few of them that stayed with me–but it was such a devastating blow. I mean, that was 150 people who wouldn’t speak to me. That was so hard to believe, that all of a sudden it shook my idea of all that shared truth about love…you know, as a Christian, why aren’t my Christian brothers and sisters still with me? I’ve not stopped being a Christian, I’ve not changed at all, I just revealed something that I discovered about myself. All of a sudden, we’re no longer loving each other. That, to me, was a breach in this faith that I’d grown up with.
I decided that I wasn’t–I couldn’t be that kind of person who would browbeat or judge my friends. Everyone is living out their truths. If they were going to see any truth in my faith, it had to be from the positivity in my own life. If it leaks into my stories, great, but I didn’t want it to be heavy-handed.
Perhaps the most faith-built story in the whole book is about a werewolf that is hiding inside a Christian bluegrass band as the banjo player. And they know he’s in there, and he’s killed before, so they lock him up every full moon but they weigh–because they’re such a successful band, and because they’ve brought a lot of souls to Jesus–if we kill him, then we stop the good that he’s giving in the world. So how much good outweighs the deaths he’s caused?
I wanted to bring up that dilemma of trying to evaluate people based on the good and bad that they do, and how difficult a position that is. I critique their values but, at the same time, I never in the story say that they are bad for wanting to have that faith, for having that faith, and they’re trying to make good decisions, but they’re torn. Their faith has caused them to be blind in some areas that they shouldn’t be blinded; but how do you just purposely kill somebody?
Most of the stories don’t touch deeply on faith, except for the two we’ve talked about.
Continue reading part 2 of the interview here.
The January 2017 issue of the Clarion e-Bulletin featured an interview with esteemed Clarionite and award-winning author Nalo Hopkinson (Clarion 1995). The interview was conducted in October 2016 via Skype with Tiffany Davis, one of the e-Bulletin co-editors. Due to space constraints, we could only post a small portion of the interview in the newsletter. We are pleased to offer the entire interview for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
Tiffany Davis (TD): You were a Clarion student as well as an instructor, correct?
Nalo Hopkinson (NH): I was a student in 1995. I have been asked to teach both Clarion and Clarion West a number of times, and when there was a Clarion South for a while (in Australia), I taught the first one. I taught Clarion West either last year or the year before–I can’t quite remember–but I’m going back to Clarion San Diego this summer [summer 2017].
TD: Brown Girl in the Ring came out in 1998. Was that after you finished Clarion, or your entry into it?
NH: I was already working on two novels, and Brown Girl in the Ring was one of them, and I had sold a short story. So when I got back from Clarion, I really wanted to finish a novel. I had already finished a draft of Midnight Robber, my second novel, but I hear it wasn’t working. So I got to work on the first one, which was a little simpler and a little more standard in terms of plot and format, and tropes. So I finished that in, maybe, 1996. I entered the Warner Aspect First Novel contest and won it, and they published it a year later.
TD: Obviously, you’re a writer, but you’ve edited or co-edited anthologies as well (including Mojo: Conjure Stories and So Long Been Dreaming). Is it a nice break from writing to edit, or what is it about editing anthologies that you enjoy?
NH: It’s a different break. The work is almost as hard as writing a novel. The most recent one I did was a special edition of Lightspeed: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction, short science fiction. What I like about it is seeing what happens when people have a theme to write to, and seeing what both new and existing voices can do with that theme. And, of course, I like bringing a lot of work by people of color, and queer people, and women–I like bringing that stuff to the forefront, to audiences’ attention. And just finding new fiction, man–just seeing what people do is so exciting.
When you read a story and think, “Damn! Damn, I could not have come up with that!” So that part’s really cool. And increasingly, you know, since I’ve been around a little while, it’s often my former Clarion students. Not all the time, but enough that I get to be like a proud mama, like, “Oh! Write that! I’ll publish that!” So that part’s cool, too.
TD: Your Lemonade Award , which you started because you kind of want to reward people for doing acts of kindness, if I recall correctly. When are you going to start disbursing that, or have you already started?
NH: I haven’t started shit. *laughing* I have some offers of help, I’m collecting money to do it. I have enough to run it for a couple of years. And now, I have to start a nonprofit and pull a jury together–because it’s going to be juried. Next year (2017) is when I anticipate announcing the awards for the first year. And probably not early next year, so don’t hold your breath because I don’t do things fast anymore.
TD: Let’s talk about non-writing, because I follow you on Twitter. I notice that you do a lot of food. I teach lower-income students how to cook healthier, so your tweets interest me because I’m always looking for new recipe ideas.
NH: Oh, I would love to teach something like that, and I haven’t figured out a way to do that at my university yet. I’m not really trained; I followed my mother, and I know my way around a kitchen, but this is a litigious country and, God forbid, that a student gets a burn.
TD: You post a lot of recipes, and pictures of food you’ve made. Is cooking another creative outlet for you?
NH: Yes. I usually don’t cook anything that takes more than twenty minutes to prep, so it’s the opposite of writing a novel. At the end of it, you have something, hopefully, good tasting and good for you. I do a lot of cooking and because I have fibromyalgia, I have certain dietary–they’re not needs, but I feel better if I eat certain ways. And at home, it’s easier to know what’s exactly in my food. Plus, food is fun, you know? It’s like, pretty things you can play with and then eat them. It’s the best thing ever.
I do the cooking, and I’ve been a crafts person since I was a kid. I make stuff–if I see a technique I haven’t tried before, and you can make pretty things with it, and it’s fairly simple, I will try it. My practice, I think, goes beyond just the words, but I usually bring something science fictional or fantastical, and usually Afrocentric, to it. I design fabric as well–very amateur. I was an early user on Spoonflower, learning to use Photoshop, trying to make fabric designs.
Whatever I turn my hand to, even the food, a lot of it comes from African cultures, or I’m doing some kind of fusion. The other night I made rösti, [Swedish potato pancakes] but I made it with cassava. Oh my God, It was so good!
I’m always trying to find ways to make things feel like home. So yeah, I make stuff. I make stuff all the time. The writing is the thing I do the least, actually, *laughing*
TD: When you say “home”, do you mean Jamaica, or Canada? Because you went from Jamaica to Canada.
NH: I lived in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, the US, and Canada. So when I say “home”, you have to ask me which one I mean in that particular context.
TD: Do you ever cook anything and it triggers something in your mind like, “Hmm, this might make an interesting novel, or an interesting story?”
NH: Everything does that, so probably. *laughs* Sometimes the mistakes are more likely to do that. The last short story I sold, which is going to show up in Uncanny magazine, it’s about stuff you find in the drains because you know, you cook a lot, and stuff gets in your drains, and you have this kind of hair, and you have to be cleaning the drain out often.
Sometimes the ideas come when it’s something I actually heard, but heard it wrong. The Easttowns [Falling in Love With Hominids] story came from me not hearing what the guy on the subway was saying. When he said “Eastbound”, I heard “East Town”. I thought, “Alright, so what’s in East Town?” It took about three years, but the story came from that.
The world is a pretty weird place and if you have any kind of imagination at all, you tell yourself stories about things. I don’t tell myself whole stories because that’s what I do for a living, and it’s work, but I get a notion and I’ll write that down. I’ll put it in my “Ideas” file and when I look for a story idea, I look for two or three of those ideas and smush them together, particularly if they don’t seem to have anything to do with each other. The tension of finding the through-line creates the plot.
TD: Quick sidebar: The tattoo on your arm–is that an nkyimkyim symbol [An Adinkra symbol from West Africa]?
NH: Yeah, I got it when I finished The Salt Roads, ‘cause that novel tried to kill me! *laughs* It was my celebration. I’m also also a word in Shelley Jackson’s performance piece/story called “Skin”, a work of art where you apply to her–it’s a 3,000-word story–and you applied, and she gave you a word, and if you’re working with punctuation, you got that too. And you had to tattoo the word somewhere on your body and send her a picture of the tattoo. So I’m the word “lace”.
TD: You get asked about writing all the time, such as “Where do you get your motivation?” or “How did you come up with your ideas?” I’m nowhere near your level as a writer, and I get tired of people asking me that!
NH: There’s no way to answer that question and actually give people useful information. I can say something, and it would sound good, but…eh.
TD: We’re in an era where people think, “Okay, so if I do X times Y, then I can write…” And I’m like, “It’s not quite that simple.”
NH: No, it’s not. I get it from my undergrads all the time. They’re taking creative writing but they want a job. I’m like, “You understand those two things don’t actually go together?” [They ask]”What do I do to get an A?” [I reply] “Well, write the best you can.”
TD: You post some good things on your Twitter feed. You posted a gluten-free cracker that looked good, so I tried it.
NH: Yeah, they tasted really good. It looks a bit like I’m pandering to them, but it’s food! If it tastes good, people should know.
TD: Anything else you want to share?
NH: I guess the big thing is, that I recently became a Doctor of Letters. The Anglia Ruskin University in the UK wrote me and said, we want to give you an honorary degree. So I went over there [in October 2016] and I gave one of the valedictory addresses, and they put me in the gown and the hat and the whole bit–I looked like I went to Hogwarts. I only needed a wand.
TD: If you were in a [Hogwarts] house, which one would you be in?
NH: I would want to be able to switch houses at will. I’m a switchy kind of person.
So now I’m a Doctor of Letters, as a science fiction writer, which is very, very cool. And that’s the thing that’s in my mind right now. I also work at a university that has a science fiction archives, books going back to Thomas Morton’s Utopia, so that’s going back to the 16th century–the bootleg version, we have the bootleg version. That has been a lot of fun because I get to work with the collection, I helped to create a PhD minor in science fiction, and I’m teaching all these courses that I could have never found at university. They hired me as a science fiction writer, which is pretty cool.
TD: Who do you like to read, in any genre? Because you’re a writer, so you like to read, so who are the people you like to read, in general?
NH: This summer past, I discovered Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. She’s from Canada–Vancouver, I think–but she’s Mexican-Canadian. I read her first two books like **psst*, and I was done! It was so good. I mean, I’d known about her but just hadn’t read her work. I like [Samuel] Delany [Clarion instructor], of course, because he was my touchstone for writing in general but also for writing as a Black queer writer in science fiction. I just love his artistry, what he does with words. China Mieville. I just finished a book by Tiphani Yanique, Land of Love and Drowning, set in Antigua.
TD: That’s all the questions I have. Thank you for taking the time for this interview
NH: Thank you for having me! It was fun.
Writers, it’s time to sharpen your pencils, refill your fountain pens, or warm up those keyboards. Join with fellow writers around the world for our fifth annual write-a-thon, now open for registration.
What is a write-a-thon?
It’s like a walk-a-thon, except for writing! Participants can be pledged by the word, chapter, or story. Finish that novel you’ve been working on. Write and submit new short stories. Try your hand at writing speculative poetry. The goal is up to you.
The six-week event mirrors the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, running from June 22nd to August 2nd. Write and/or pledge to show your support for the latest batch of students, chosen from among hundreds of applicants, as they learn from some of the best writers and editors in our field.
Who can join?
The write-a-thon is open to everyone, whether you’re just getting started or you’re a seasoned pro. Previous attendance of Clarion is not required.
What does the money raised from donations and pledge go to?
All funds raised during the write-a-thon go to the Clarion Foundation, whose express purpose is to support the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, financially and strategically, in providing a high quality educational experience for aspiring writers.
We’re giving away prizes to our top Write-a-thon earners. The top five earners will receive critiques from some of Clarion’s most successful alumni and friends; people like Karen Joy Fowler, Ted Chiang and Delia Sherman. Every writer who raises $250 or more will receive a critique from a Clarion alumni of our choice.
Registration is easy.
Writers: Sign up, fill out your profile, and enter your goals. Then use the handy buttons to share your Write-a-thon profile with your social networks.
Sponsors: Browse the list of writers, select the person you would like to support, and click the Donate button. Registration is optional for donors, but required for pledges. Registration allows us to properly credit your donation to the individual writer, to generate thank you and tax acknowledgement letters automatically rather than manually, and to run the Write-a-Thon without hiring employees. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.